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BrooWaha: Mobilizing citizen journalists

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BrooWaha founder Ariel Vardi talks about how his publication utilizes Web 2.0 applications to make news media more inclusive.

Poh Si: Why did you develop BrooWaha?

Ariel: I created BrooWaha during my last quarter at Georgia Tech, where I was getting my Masters Degree in Computer Science. I was very busy studying and didn't have a lot of time to explore Atlanta. I looked for a website that captured the vibe of the city where I could get some local gossip and news. I was only able to find the online versions of local newspapers that I found very "old school" and often disconnected from the realities of young peoples' daily lives. I did some thinking and realized that the reason why these newspapers felt so impersonal was simply because they weren't written by us, regular citizens of our respective cities. That's how the BrooWaha project started. The scope of the newspaper then grew from ultra-local to something a little more general, mixing regional news with a variety of other topics.

Poh Si: It says at the bottom of the page in fine print: "Journalism needs to be rethought." What do you mean?

Ariel: Journalism is a very old discipline that needs a bit of refreshing. The major news outlets like the NY Times and the LA Times are only now focusing their attention on the online versions of their papers. The LA Times announced a month ago that www.latimes.com would now be their primary medium for delivering news. This is a major shift and there is little doubt that all news outlets will go through this transformation as well. The Internet enables a richer multimedia experience and a much higher frequency of updates than traditional paper news. In addition, the Internet makes it possible to have readers interact much more easily with the newspapers, through comments and discussion boards.

Also, the Internet and its Web 2.0 approach in particular can bring a lot to journalism by involving the crowds in the newsrooms. The time where only journalists had the ability to broadcast information to the masses via newspapers is gone. Everyone can now reach millions of people by posting content on the Internet. With such a large portion of the US having access to the web, we now potentially have newsrooms with millions of "journalists". They are everywhere and, collectively, they see everything. All they need is a simple way to publish their pieces and reach a large audience.

A major drawback of this revolution, however, is that the quality of the content published is generally lower than in traditional news outlets where journalists are trained professionals. The challenge is to filter this large amount of user-generated content to provide quality articles to readers while remaining as open as possible to give everyone the voice they deserve. This is BrooWaha's mission.

Poh Si: Were you the programmer/designer? Did you collaborate with other people?

Ariel: I started designing and programming BrooWaha during my spare time while studying at Georgia Tech. The very first version of the website was programmed and designed by me and became operational within a few months. Some of my friends later helped me with artwork, programming tips and ideas.
I now work as a software engineer in Los Angeles and still work on BrooWaha during my spare time. I maintain the website, fix bugs and design new features. I am starting to look for help to keep up with the growing popularity of the website.

Poh Si: What do you think of mainstream media?

Ariel: I grew up in France where I thought news on TV was bad but when I moved to the US I was appalled by the low quantity and quality of newsworthy information shared. The simple fact that news programming is interrupted by commercials is unacceptable to me. Even worse are the channels that tease viewers with previews of the upcoming news flash ("Car crash on the 405 freeway, come back after Jeopardy to learn more!"). Our world is not a movie and news programs should be much more serious than they are.
Newspapers are much better in that sense, but as I explained above, they need to embrace the Internet wave and the blogging phenomenon instead of fighting it.

One of the ways in which mainstream media personally affected my life is in its coverage of the situation in Israel and the Middle East. Growing up as an Israeli in France, I was made to listen to an extremely biased centralized media, as were my classmates. It caused me problems when people would develop a hatred for me or what I stood for based on mis-information acquired by often ill-researched news. This caused me to investigate world events on my own and develop a healthy level of skepticism about mainstream news, understanding that it is, at best, some peoples' valiant efforts at capturing "the truth", but inevitably missing some, and, at worst, a forum for biases to openly pollute the minds of citizens under the guise of state-sponsored legitimacy.

Poh Si: What makes BrooWaha different from other citizen journalism news sites?

Ariel: BrooWaha puts a very strong emphasis on its authors and values them more than other websites who just post articles and end there. At BrooWaha, authors who write well are rewarded by their peers with popularity points which, in turn, make successful authors powerful members of the BrooWaha community. Their votes disproportionately influence other authors' popularity and they are given unique opportunities to write on choice subjects and get published in the headlines. For instance, I arranged for some of the top-contributors to interview local celebrities Harry Perry from Venice Beach Boardwalk and Nicholas Gurevich from PBF Comics.

Poh Si: What are the Web 2.0 features on BrooWaha?

Ariel:
- All content published on BrooWaha is written by users.
- Users can rate articles from 1 to 5 (Awful to Excellent).
- Users can review articles on 4 criteria: Interest, Writing, Analysis and Fairness.
- Users can comment on the articles.
- Users can rate the comments that other users leave.
- Users can add friends who will be notified when they write a new article.

Poh Si: How does the site retain quality? Do you have editors?

Ariel: Almost all articles submitted to BrooWaha are published within 24 hours (often within a couple of hours). The only role of the editors is to prevent spam and offensive content from being published. We do not edit for mistakes and expect our authors to do basic proofreading and spell checking. Authors who fail to do this are subsequently rated less highly by the BrooWaha community, so professionalism should be reflected by popularity. The sorting of the articles is handled automatically by an algorithm which sorts them based on a number of factors including: number of views, average rating, author's popularity and article's age.

Contributors earn popularity points by writing quality content for BrooWaha. The more popular an author is, the more prominently his/her work is displayed in the publication.

The articles that are badly rated and written by authors with a low popularity quickly disappear from the newspaper.

Poh Si: What's the business model for BrooWaha? Is there one?

Ariel: BrooWaha's current revenue mainly comes from advertisements (Google Adsense). They are displayed in every article and on the front page of the newspaper. Several new advertising options will soon be added to the website and a revenue sharing program is being considered, whereby popular authors might earn a percentage of advertising revenue on their articles.

Other revenue streams are in the works, including a premium membership giving additional features to users paying a small fee.

Poh Si: Additional thoughts, words of wisdom, advice, etc.

Ariel: Flexibility is a virtue. Journalists, like everyone else, must learn to adapt to new technology and the demands of the future. Although it seems your field is rapidly changing, there will always be a prominent place in society for talented writers and those who are willing to go out of their way to transmit information in a competent and interesting way.

The successful journalists of tomorrow will learn to use the tools on the internet and embrace journalism in all of its new forms.

Trained journalists will never be replaced by amateur bloggers, as any reader of a citizen journalism website can tell. We will always need great writers, editors, and professional eyes to lead the way for the rest of us who are now beginning to take on a more interactive role in information transfer.


About the Writer

Poh Si Teng is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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6 comments on BrooWaha: Mobilizing citizen journalists

Log In To Vote   Score: 4
By Steven Lane on April 20, 2007 at 01:36 am
Very cool and insightful interview. Ariel deserves the credit for giving us writers an opportunity to "share our wares" in and equal and fair arena.
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Log In To Vote   Score: 4
By Crowbar on April 23, 2007 at 04:40 pm
Nice to finally know the myth behind the man.... good article, but i couldn't get past the revenue sharing.....show me da money!
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Log In To Vote   Score: 4
By Cindy on June 26, 2007 at 12:45 pm
Great article! Great writing. I love this newspaper.
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Log In To Vote   Score: 3
By Larry-Lauren on October 30, 2007 at 06:47 pm
“Our world is not a movie,” -- Ariel. "The time has come," the Walrus said, "To talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing wax, of cabbages and kings. And why the sea is boiling hot, and whether pigs have wings."--- Lewis Carroll Broowaha does a very good job.
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Log In To Vote   Score: 1
By Charles, Jr on November 14, 2007 at 10:32 pm
Thank you Ariel.
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Log In To Vote   Score: 1
By Credo on October 30, 2013 at 07:34 pm

All hands should applaud Ariel for his innovative initiative. Boowaha is a great exploration in journalism, an expanding frontier.

:)Credo

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